Benefit for 11-year-old kidney patient

The phrase “It takes a village” can be demonstrated perfectly in the Marietta, Williamstown and surrounding communities as they come together to raise money for a young Marietta boy awaiting a kidney transplant.

The outreach efforts will culminate in a spaghetti dinner and silent auction to be held on Sunday afternoon.

Tucker Heslop, 11, a fourth-grader at Wood County Christian School and the son of Beth and Perry Heslop of Marietta, has been hospitalized since early December after his body began rejecting the small intestine transplant he received years ago.

With medical bills piling up as the Heslop family spends round the clock time in the Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital, the community has rallied around the boy’s recovery and pulled together the event to send all the proceeds to help Tucker.

“Because of all those medical costs, the family has incurred a lot of expenses,” said Jane Smith, operations administrator for Wood County Christian. “It’s a real strain on their lives financially.”

The benefit was put together by a non-official committee of churches, individual citizens and members of the school.

The dinner and auction will be held Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. in the Wood County Christian School cafeteria, with spaghetti, salads, brownies, pies and hot rolls on the menu.

Instead of selling tickets, the benefit is only taking donations in the hopes that it will allow everyone who wants to show their support to help out.

“We wanted to wait to do something until it got a little further in the transplant process, but when he was going through the rejection, we knew they needed encouragement and the support of the community,” Smith said. “And a lot of the folks started coming to the school saying ‘we want to do something.'”

After Tucker was born with Hirschsprung disease, a disorder where the patient is born without nerve cells in the intestines, he received a small intestine transplant in 2005.

The transplant left Tucker susceptible to illness, and eventually Tucker’s body began rejecting the organ, along with a failing kidney.

“We came over for an appointment (to Pittsburgh) because they were the ones who gave him the original transplant, but they decided to just admit him to do a full evaluation and try to get his electrolytes in balance,” Beth Heslop said.

Tucker is now on the waiting list to receive a new kidney and a relative is currently being evaluated for possible donation, but Beth said doctors want to wait until about six months after Tucker’s intestine has healed to do the transplant.

As a response, the community went to work finding ways to help the family, including starting the Tucker Heslop Benefit Fund at Peoples Bank in Marietta, where anyone can donate money and where the group directs all benefit proceeds.

“As a community of neighbors, we have known Tucker and his family for years, so a lot of people have helped while he was in and out of hospital,” said Steve Thibault, the pastor at Evergreen Bible Church that the Heslops attend. “People have gone up to visit him, we’ve sent care packages, gifts for his birthday, and people have gone to spend the night to relieve his mom.”

Community members have even chipped in for gas expenses too, as the roughly 150-mile trip to Pittsburgh is another large expense.

“We thought he would be out quickly, but as days grew to weeks and months, people have asked what more they can do,” Thibault said. “Beth and Perry are humble, and don’t ask for a lot, but the community of churches and neighbors still wanted to do more, and that’s how the benefit came up.”

The accompanying silent auction is items donated by businesses as well as individuals and separate organizations.

Organizers are still taking donations to add to the 50-item auction, including a car sold at cost by a local dealer that will be up for bidding.

“We have been lifting this family up in prayer through this crisis,” Smith said. “He’s very much a normal little boy and loved by his classmates.”

The Heslops plan on Skyping in to the benefit so Tucker can get a direct flow of support from the community.

“It’s very overwhelming, but we really appreciate it, because it’s really helped a lot,” Beth said. “I can’t say it’s surprising though, because the people over there at the school always support one another. They’ve always been kind of a family when you go through something like this.”

Marietta businessman Don Schafer is donating the supplies and effort involved in making his homemade spaghetti sauce for the event.

“I’ve done a lot of this before, and I like to do it for people,” Schafer said. “He’s suffered a lot, and his friends miss him and want to get him back.”

Smith said almost all of the items needed to hold the benefit and auction were donated, meaning organizers can put all the proceeds into Tucker’s fund.

“I have had several emails from businesses owners or self-employed people who wanted to donate something, and I was really encouraged by that,” Smith said. “It’s just been a tremendous show of support from the community.”

For more information about the event or for questions about donations, the community is encouraged to contact (304) 375-2000.